Hospital for Hire
15 December 1973
Following on from the dual-thread lunacy of ‘Invasion of the Moon Creatures’, ‘Hospital for Hire’ seems rather a throwback—to the simpler, more innocent lunacy of Series 2! This is one of the lads’ ‘issues’ episodes, taking serious aim at the deplorable state of the National Health Service (plus a subsidiary jibe at medical quackery). The Super Chaps remain united throughout, pitted against a prominent guest star (Harry H. Corbett as the feverish, allergy-plagued Minister of Health). The music is more jazz/rock infusion than soul/funk. There’s even a return to the halftime faux commercials:
All told, this is a Goodies offering out of place in the show’s own chronology. It is easily overlooked when calling to mind the standout episodes of each series, and yet rollicks along and makes its point well (at least initially). We start with a simple premise:
When Tim complains to the Minister of Health (no less), it is suggested to him in no uncertain terms—via the traditional, garbled burst of angry phone speech—that the Goodies should become doctors themselves and become part of the solution. Thus the lads undertake a ‘rigorous’ exam to see if each is ‘suitable for the life of a medical student’. This plays out to the strident, laid-back rocker strains of ‘Medical Man’, and sees the Super Chaps running around a greyhound track, swilling beer and chasing a mechanical nurse!
While levelled in a frivolous, frolicking manner, the accusation of hard-living masculinity nevertheless hits home—especially in that part of the exam where the lads pinch nurses’ bottoms and are graded on how far their willing victims (long)jump. This being the 1970s, our heroes (sadly) aren’t calling out female objectification, workplace harassment or sexual assault, yet the casual referencing does evoke a male-centric problem where doctors have chosen their careers for reasons other than humanitarian, and where the patients, like women more generally in society, are seen as collateral to that particular, toxically self-serving way of life.
Having passed their student entrance exams, the lads are fast-tracked to internship and on-the-job training. (Tim, who’s been in residence a whole day, instructs Bill and Graeme!) Stripped of the surrounding programme, the hospital ward scenes—rubbish-strewn, festering—are enough to turn stomachs. We’re shown a broken system in full-blown reductio ad absurdum. Even the corny jokes carry a morbid truth:
If ‘Hospital for Hire’ can be criticised, it will be for making its point early and then backing away from it. Yes, the Super Chaps are appalled by what they find. They vow to put their own unique spin on doctoring. But of course their DIY-styled, supposedly patient-serving travelling hospital turns out to be just the usual, outrageously gag-filled ineptitude of misapplied home logic: force-fed pills; over-exuberant bandage wrapping; bath tubs full of plaster; conveyor-belt surgery (with sewing machine sutures!); x-rays that produce actual skeletons. It’s all very funny, again playing out to ‘Medical Man’, but doesn’t leave the patients any better off!
For that, we’re given the Goodies Medicine Show—a toe-tapping, faith-healing ear-worm of a con job:
Somewhere along the line, the lads have given up actual medicine and are trying to get rich on cure-all elixir at £5 per bottle. That the medicine proves efficacious comes as a great shock (Graeme: ‘Good grief, the stuff works’), and restores their sense of purpose. They proceed to treat every sick person in the country—including the elderly and the dead!—sneaking past the minister’s armed guards to the tune of one of Bill’s recurrent, scratchy-kazoo instrumentals. During the ensuing chaos, the Goodies themselves are injured and end the episode in plasters, no elixir left and no Health Service to turn to (it’s been shut down due to their success!).
The moral? Don’t try to monetise medicine? Don’t tear down a system unless you’ve something to replace it with? Be thankful for what you’ve got, even if it’s next-to-useless?
To be honest, this isn’t really clear. ‘Hospital for Hire’, despite its heavy subject matter, is actually rather a light episode. The musical sequences, if we include the Goodies Medicine Show, account for fully half the running time—all good stuff, but not especially droll or incisive. Even the sublime comedic flourishes tend towards the physical, such as Graeme’s tumble into the beanbag while reaching for a phone that turns out to be where he lands, not where he was aiming for!
Perhaps, in the end, the lads realise there isn’t a quick or obvious fix. Maybe there’s nothing they can do except… what they’re already doing? ie. making people laugh.
Because (self-conscious cringe) isn’t that the best medicine?
Jacob Edwards, 15 December 2023
 Of Steptoe and Son fame; not to be confused with Harry [no ‘H’] Corbett, creator of the glove puppet Sooty. As noted by Andrew Pixley in Super Chaps Three, the Minister’s Sooty-tissues are an allusion to this mistaken identity–inducing similarity in names.
 Crippen Ward, after the infamous Dr. Crippen.
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